Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
Gregory W. Nemitz registered some land containing 492 quintillion dollars worth of platinum. The land was right here… well, over here – an asteroid named 433 Eros.
Not a single sovereign nation on earth recognizes human claims to
extraterrestrial real estate, but he did it anyway.
And then, less than a year later, NASA landed a probe on the asteroid. They called it the first asteroid
we had ever landed a probe on. Nemitz called it “parking space number 29”
and promptly sent NASA a 20 dollar parking ticket.
But so far, NASA and the US Attorney General
have dismissed the fine, saying that his claim to own the asteroid is without legal merit. But why? Plenty of organizations exists that will
gladly take your money in return for land on the Moon, Venus, Mars.
And if you had enough money to go to the Moon, nothing is legally stopping you from moving there, building a house with a significant
other, having some kids and turning your Moon house into a Moon home.
It wouldn’t be trespassing or squatting or stealing.
The 1979 Moon Treaty says that no one can own any part of outer space ever, but only 11 states have signed it.
However, 129 nations have signed and/or ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which says that outer
space is not subject to national appropriation.
It says nothing about a private individual or a company owning part of outer space. But without the recognition and support
of at least one sovereign nation, what does ownership really mean? I mean, I can claim anything I want.
I can claim to own Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but just saying that I do or
even moving there and living in Prospect Park wouldn’t
entitle me to the rights that usually go along with ownership, unless someone with a bunch of power agreed that I owned it and could enforce
that ownership and keep others from claiming to also own it.
In the past, explorers had few qualms about claiming to own land, even if other humans were already there,
because they had power on their side – mainly plenty of guns, Germs and Steel.
To paraphrase con artist Canada Bill Jones, “you know what beats four aces? A gun.”
Or as @lawblob pointed out, McDonald’s actually does serve
breakfast after 10:30, if you have a gun. If you claimed some
land on the Moon as your own and moved in, would you also have to hire your own lunar police and Cislunar military to defend it and
to keep others from challenging your claim?
Pretty much. That’s kind of the problem.
Currently it is risky for individuals or corporations to claim and use extraterrestrial territory
because the Outer Space Treaty says that outer space is the common heritage of mankind.
It belongs to all of us and only to all of us. Many interpretations of the Outer Space
Treaty predict that powerful things like nations would be reluctant to come to your
defense should someone else want to move in or cause trouble or dispute your extraterrestrial claim. Maybe you could get the sovereign nation
to weigh in on your behalf by declaring universal jurisdiction but that would need to be for an
incredibly terrible heinous crime, a crime against all of humanity, not just a dispute over a few space rocks. Catherine Doldirina from the
Institute of Air & Space Law at McGill University suggests that considering outer space, the common heritage of mankind, has slowed space exploration. You see, the Outer Space Treaty was based
on the Antarctic Treaty, which says that the entire continent shall never become the scene or object
of international discord. Discord is not a good thing, but
without an incentive to profit from it, not much has happened there,
as opposed to the Arctic, where a resource boom is
currently underway. If people felt safer appropriating and
taking advantage of space, of celestial bodies, if technological development was more incentivized, would we already have orbiting tourist attractions and lunar hotels?
Maybe. But here is what you can currently own in outer space: stuff you put there and, to a certain extent, orbits. The Outer Space Treaty says that the
stuff we left on the move, anything put into space, remains property of the original owner forever.
Orbits around earth are temporarily granted by the
International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency;
but they don’t work like typical real estate on Earth.
When a group of Equatorial nations attempted to claim orbits above their
land boundaries, without planning on putting satellites there, their claim was largely ignored. So you not only need to ask the UN for an orbit and get permission,
you also need to use it and fill it. It’s a little disappointing that we
don’t know how lunar real estate works or if it will, but it’s exciting to know that we,
within our lifetimes, might have a chance to be part of the solution. A unique generation not visiting space
for the first time, but homesteading it for the first time. Here’s another unresolved space law quandary. If an alien landed in your backyard, intelligent life from beyond Earth, and you shot it with a gun, dressed it and then cooked up,
you and your family, some alien meat fajitas, would that be hunting or murder? We literally don’t know.
On earth, we have human rights, but there are no alien rights. Maybe it would fall under the category of cultural vandalism, an act that’s not necessarily a legal, but is a giant bummer to the rest of humanity.
This has happened before – not with aliens – but with paintings. In 2003, the Chapman brothers purchased
one of the few remaining sets of Goya’s Fantastic Disasters of War. Instead of displaying the works for the
public, they defaced them by drawing clown and puppy heads on the people. They called the work “insult to injury.” In protest, a man threw red paint on
Jake Chapman when he appeared at Modern Art Oxford, but at the end of the day,
what the Chapman brothers did wasn’t illegal.
They owned the paintings. Vandalizing the Moon or killing a peaceful alien aren’t illegal acts, but just like defacing historical
paintings, they seem wrong on some deeper level, especially since because in
most museums you usually can’t even touch the paintings. But who was the first person to touch the Moon with their bare hands? I mean, the guys who walked around on the
Moon wore space suits, they had material in between their skin and the Moon.
Well, to be sure, you already have the Moon in your hands. Well, little Moons.
Lunula. The crescent-shaped area at the base of
your fingernail, where tissue is thicker and the red
vascular structures underneath are more hidden, making it white.
And to be even more sure, at the quantum level touch is
problematic. As I’ve covered before, atomically speaking, matter never really contacts other matter in the conventional sense.
You can’t truly touch anything.
MinutePhysics called it interaction over a short distance. With that in mind, NASA says the Terry Slezak was the first person to
touch the Moon with his bare hands. He was a technician
in quarantine, who accidentally got lunar soil smeared all over his hand while removing film magazines from the astronauts’ cameras.
But when Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the lunar module after their moonwalk and removed their
helmets, they came into contact with lunar dust they tracked in on their suits.
They even reported its odor, saying it smelled of spent gunpowder or ashes, possibly because it oxidized on contact with the air in the cabin.
Point is, the first few breaths of Moon dusty air that Armstrong and Aldrin took in were our first fleshly contact with the Moon. Or were they?
Walking around on earth every day I am surrounded by material that recently was in outer space. Hundreds of metric
tons of extraterrestrial rock falls to Earth every year.
Some from the Moon, but most from asteroids, ejected by a high-speed impact and
eventually caught by Earth’s gravity.
Some pieces are big enough to see, but most are pulverized by our atmosphere
during entry into tiny particles that disperse in the air, becoming a tiny fraction of the very dust and dirt we clean up and breathe in every day. There’s microscopic space dust, pieces of asteroids and even the Moon all around us. In fact, there might be microscopic
pieces of the Moon under your bed right now or even under your fingernails. Which means the
first human to have fleshly contact with lunar material was the first Homo Sapien hundreds of
thousands of years ago to walk on dirt. We are still studying
exactly how much cosmic dust is in the air that we breathe every day, but it’s safe to say that every once in
a while you inhale some material that was recently in outer space, some of which thousands of
years ago was on the Moon. Was the Moon. And just like other
particulates in our atmosphere, large enough pieces get trapped in the
mucus that protects our lungs, meaning that picking your nose is gross, but every once in a while,
a booger could literally be out of this world. And as always, thanks for watching.